By DAVID JOHNSON
AS WE HAVE SEEN discussed on the news and across social media since the death of Queen Elisabeth II, talk of Canada’s relationship with the Monarchy is alive and kicking, with many wanting to see this outdated idea set aside.
Let’s set aside the royalist vs. abolitionist argument, as it seems that everyone has already decided what side of that debate they are on.
That said, the soundbite proponents that yell “Just Abolish the Monarchy from Canada and be done with it, its expensive” … don’t really know what they are talking about.
Do they really think it would be that easy?
We already know that Canada’s Constitution makes it incredibly challenging for the country to end its ties with the Monarchy, requiring unanimity votes within all provinces, the House and the Senate. That’s every single person in all these places. Constitutional law experts believe it would be virtually impossible to achieve unanimous consent on the issue today.
For argument’s sake, let’s say someone gets that done. That’s just the very beginning. The really hard part has just begun. We now have to recreate our country from the ground up. We have to replace the Monarchial Head of State with something of our own design.
Sounds easy? A bit of paperwork?
This is what the American founding fathers had to do 200 years ago in Philadelphia. They suddenly realised that it wasn’t as easily said as done.
Canada would literally have to do the same thing.
But let’s start at the top.
Every single democratic country in the world has a non-partisan head of state.
A democracy is a very fragile form of government. You must have the stability of a Head of State that is not attached to the partisanship of daily governance.
Some democracies are Constitutional Monarchies, some are Democratic Republics. There is no real option 3. After hundreds of years around the world, any other attempted form of democracy has managed to be overthrown by dictatorships, socialism or other forms of totalitarianisms.
Canada being a Constitutional Monarchy, means the British sovereign is our functional (albeit almost entirely ceremonial) Head of State, represented by the Governor General.
Yes, King Charles and Queen Elisabeth before him, have no real power in Canadian governance, but the position satisfies the needed position of non partisan Head of State.
Now let’s talk about republics. Most democratic republics have both a Prime Minister AND a President. Usually, the Prime Minister’s job is in the legislature dealing with party politics and legislation.
In most cases, the President’s job is to remain neutral from party lines in the legislature. They are the double check over the Prime Minister and the legislature, and have the ability to stop any party or power from taking over the democratic ideals that are the foundation of the country … i.e. a coup.
They are the safeguard to democracy. In order for a democracy to continue beyond threat of dictatorial or Junta based incursion from inside, this person also has control over the military, further removing the chance that a runaway political party can go fascist on us and use the military on its own people.
This Head of State position exists in all democratic republics.
America and a few other democracies differ. America does not have a Prime Minister but a Congress with their leaders and a Senate and a President, and all ARE aligned to party politics.
American founding fathers therefore had to create many rules and protocols to ensure that no President or Congress or Senate could over rule the power of the people.
Much of the function of American democracy requires all involved to at least hold to a moderate level of selflessness, acting in the greater interest of the people, and that position creates the functional cross check that keeps the system stable. It requires people to work together.
This is what we have seen fail in recent years in America. Corruption, selfishness and a complete inability to negotiate between the branches of power has broken their system that has worked fairly well for 200 years.
It is reminiscent of the moment of failure of the Roman republic, that brought on the succeeding era of the Roman Empire. Corruption and power-hungry individuals steamrolled over the republic that was in existence for 500 years.
But I digress.
A Constitutional Monarchy like in Canada … although in today’s day and age being completely toothless, has been a successful way to maintain the Head of State concept, free from political interference and as a permanent safety valve.
Yes, in the far ago past, the Empirical English Commonwealth Parliamentary system that kept overseas provinces under dominion to the crown, was a full-on control game … no one doubts that. Attached to that was all the horrible impacts of colonialism.
But since the end of colonialism and the end of the English Empire as a whole, the system was twisted to be an advantage to previous colonial countries. A way to maintain the Parliamentary system (so far still the best form of democratic governance), but keep the lack of Head of State from creating this problem of the cross-check issue.
Prior to our Constitution in 1982, let’s imagine that some fascist power took over the House of Parliament and country in a violent military coup. The Governor General, as the actual Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, under the direction of the King, could literally call in the military and regain control of the situation, and then pass control of the country back to the politicians once the situation has passed.
Believe it or not, the Governor General still has the Commander in Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces power today, so in reality, the power of the crown in Canada is not completely ceremonial.
At the end of the day, Canada can not just ‘dump the monarchy’.
It must be replaced with a Head of State, empowered to keep our country out of the hands of those who would destroy our democracy.
To date, there is no other system that has this check and balance in place. You either have a Monarchy as Head of State, or you have a Republic with a Head of State.
In Canada’s case, that would mean not abolishing the Senate, but empowering it with real teeth, and adding a President position to keep real power … especially the military … from the legislature.
You do not ever just throw out your Head of State and pass all that power to the Prime Minister to keep it simple. You have just created a dictator without any controls in place.
Imagine one day someone like Trump is elected.
Many have wondered whether we want to continue on with a head of state that is hereditary, from a particular family that breeds leaders to serve in this role; or whether in a modern, democratic and multicultural society, we might want a head of state that’s a little bit more representative of the people, that the head of state serves.
And that’s a fair point.
Just know that to get there from here means there is no choice but to literally rewrite the definition of our governance itself. A difficult and painful process to be sure.
Is that what we are really up to doing?
When someone in your world, conversationally discards the idea of a Monarchy in Canada, just chuckle, knowing that they have no idea the quagmire that they are suggesting.
It just isn’t that simple.
It’s been said the Monarchy costs us about $50 million a year.
We don’t send a cheque to London, but we do pay for Royal visits here and for the Governor General. Considering the costs behind what we would replace it with, and the transition costs … $50 million starts to sound like a pretty good deal.
If the last 70 years has proven anything, we can rest assured that this hereditary family are bred to be heavily trained to not abuse their power in any way. They are by design beyond the politics and issues of the day.
Perhaps that’s a pretty safe place to store our democracy, so we can just focus on living in it.
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.